But what has turned the airline industry upside down is the subject United wanted to discuss with us in small and intimate focus group held at the private dining room of the posh Four Season’s Hotel in the trendy near north side of  Chicago, and the participants treated to an exquisite and elaborate dinner. What they wanted to know was: How would we feel about our secretaries being able to book the flights for us on our own computers? This is the early Nineties. It wasn’t until 1991 that the ban over commercial traffic on the Internet was lifted. And not until 1994, Netscape and Amazon were founded, following which web based commerce began in the mid-Nineties. Which is when email was just beginning to emerge and the internet with its limited access was something only nerds were aware of.

Certainly, the consultants hired by the United must have seen the future – at least to the point where like traveling agents, their corporate clients too can be hooked up to the airlines’ networks, thus saying good bye to having to pay commission to the traveling agents and save on their own telephone booking clerks and be able to close down their city offices. In other words, though I don’t remember exactly the way our conversation went, I’ll make one up to illustrate the gist of it.

Me: If I understand it right, you want us – your customers to do your work?

Consultant: Not at all. We just want our best customers to have more freedom by giving them exclusive access to our network.

Me: Right! Buts it’s us who would have to do the looking!

Consultant: It wouldn’t be you personally, I presume you would have your secretaries do that.

Me: As if she doesn’t have enough to do already?

Consultant: I guess she would. But once we have provided the proper training, it’s as easy as one-two and three.

Me: So she would become de-facto traveling agent?

Consultant: Precisely. And who would know your preferences better than your own secretary?

Me: Right! So does my traveling agent and he would always know better of the other options available to his clients.

Consultant: So would your secretary. The screen will list ALL the available IATA flights, irrespective of the carrier. And she will be able to do it right away. And if you wanted, you too could look over her shoulder and see all the available options. No need for her to call your agent and then wait for him to get back to you. Just imagine how much time you would save!

Me: It still doesn’t change the fact that we – your clients would be doing your work. And if so, my question is, if we are going to do yours or traveling agency’s work, what is in it for us? Would you kick back a percentage for our trouble?

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